What are Excitotoxins?

Excitotoxins are chemicals either added to food or found in food that cause an overstimulation of the nervous system which can cause the cells to be destroyed. These chemicals are found in almost all processed foods.

The most common excitotoxins are aspartame (an artificial sweetener) and monosodium glutamate (commonly known as MSG).

The way they cause damage to the body, in a nutshell, is these chemical stimulate glutamate receptors. Glutamate receptors are part of the nerve complex that is stimulated by glutamate (an amino acid), and aspartic acid, which is found in aspartame. If these receptors get overexcited, the nerve cells can virtually excite themselves to death. These receptors are found abundantly in the brain, but are also found throughout the body. Glutamate is one of the most abundant neurotransmitters (chemicals that make nerves function) in the brain. It is used to keep the brain alert. The glutamate receptors play a role in learning, memory, endocrine system control and emotions. When we get too much of it is when the nerves become overexcited and can start to malfunction.

One argument I have heard is that the tests that are done to see if Excitotoxins are dangerous to humans are done on rats or monkeys. The problem with that line of thinking is that humans are exponentially more sensitive to Excitotoxins than monkeys or rats. The amount of excitotoxins needed to cause an adverse reaction in monkeys or rats is much more than the amount it takes to cause an adverse reaction in humans. In addition to this fun fact, humans may eat excitotoxins on a regular basis and the effects are cumulative. That diet soda or Chinese food you ate years ago may still be having an adverse effect on your health today. The effects on a fetus, infant or small child can be worse because they are four times more sensitive than adults to excitotoxins. If you combine MSG with aspartame, the negative effects are staggering. Let’s say you eat MSG containing foods like certain chips, a frozen dinner or commercial soups. Your blood glutamate will go way up. A 20 fold increase is not unusual. Then you add a diet soda and your blood glutamate can go up 40 fold, or a 4,000% increase! Almost all processed food has at least one excitotoxin, many have 2 or 3, so effects get worse as you combine the toxins.

When reading the ingredients, look up some innocent sounding terms such as hydrolyzed yeast, autolyzed vegetable protein, soy protein isolate, soy protein concentrate, whey protein, spices, enzymes, stock, broth, carrageenan, and even the term natural flavors. Any of these terms can (and usually do) mean that the product contains excessive levels of glutamate. If the food is considered a “diet” food, look for aspartame in the ingredient list.

Different people will have differing reactions to excitotoxins. Some “lucky” folks have the ability to detoxify them from the body and see little or no reaction. I find that most people will see some reaction, so keep on the lookout for how you feel and what you ate. Very high intake of any excitotoxin can lead to abnormal learning, addictive behaviors, behavioral and emotional issues and even affect the endocrine systems in children. When animals are fed MSG early in life, they can develop short stature, small endocrine organs , adrenal glands, thyroid gland, ovaries, testes and pancreas, and a high risk of seizures. Some of these effects are reversible and some are permanent.

It’s just a smart move to limit, or better yet, eliminate all the excitotoxins from your diet. The 2 main excitotoxins are MSG and aspartame. They have been linked to be the suspected cause, or at least a contributing factor in cardiac arrest, seizures, Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, certain cancers, fatigue, learning disabilities, obesity, and a host of other health problems. If you are eating out at an oriental restaurant, always order your meal “no MSG, no chicken broth” (in a Thai restaurant, be sure to order “no fish sauce”, it will most likely contain MSG). Never eat any foods sweetened with artificial sweetener. Sucralose is another popular artificial sweetener, which is also very bad, but for different reasons. Make it a habit to regularly shop at a store that does not allow these ingredients on their shelves knowing that you can trust them to not carry any products that contain these additives.

Remember, your nervous system controls everything in your body. Be sure to have a properly functioning nervous system and a diet free of toxins that can cause nervous system damage and you now have a plan for long term good health. If you and your family would like to come to my office for an examination of your spine and nervous system, x-rays if necessary, a nutrition evaluation and a complete report of the findings, please call my office at 770-427-7387 or you can send us a message in the live chat